BBC Employee Experience During Centenary Milestone


Deb Copeland


Jonathan Elliott

A peek behind the BBC curtain and its centenary celebration

Last year the BBC celebrated its centenary – a major milestone for any organisation. But what did that look like for employees? In this session, get a peek behind the curtain and see how the company celebrated this milestone with employees. You’ll see examples of how Firstup’s intelligent comms platform gave employees a voice and how company milestones can deliver significant comms victories.

Video Transcript

– Thank you. Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for having us here, delighted to be here. As I said, as Tanya said, I’m Deb Copeland, I’m director of internal comms at the BBC, and my counterpart, my better half here is Jonathan. Jonathan, do you wanna say a bit about what you do?

– Yeah, so I’m Jonathan Elliot, I head up communications for what we call our campaigns and channels. So it sits within our team to bring Firstup into the organization led by Michael Elender, who’s just at the front for us, so he leads on channels for us.

– He’s gonna answer all the questions if you have any later. So we are gonna share a bit about BBC 100, our 100th birthday, but we’re also gonna do some other stuff because I think… Oh there we are. We just wanted to really talk to you a bit more about the journey that we’ve been on with comms and engagement at the BBC, how we’re using Firstup to power that, and really talk about how we need to transform as an organization, ’cause that’s a huge part of our story, but also, you know, how we celebrated a very special birthday. But before I go into some of that, just a little bit about the BBC. I’m sure many of you will know us, I hope you use us and watch us and listen to us. We are the UK’s public service broadcaster, we are 100 years old last year, we have a clear mission to inform, educate, and entertain. We’re used by 90% of the UK population every week, we are the UK’s biggest media brand, we are the world’s most trusted news provider, we report true factual, vital journalism in more than 200 countries and reach over 500 million people every single week, which is incredible. It is an incredible place but don’t just take my word for it, here’s a few people that you might know that’ll tell you a bit more. And that’s all that stuff is absolutely true and, you know, some of the reasons why I wanted to join the organization two years ago. The other reason I wanted to join the organization, bizarrely, is because it is also facing huge challenges. Huge global competition, digital disruption, huge shifts in audience behavior than ever before, intense scrutiny, and very often in the media make in the news as much as making the news, the odd, challenging tweet. We do have those occasionally that we have to deal with. You know, we are in a fight to stay relevant, to stay, to be, to stay modern and to deliver our public service mission in a digital world. So how do we do that? I won’t bore you with going through each of our strategies but it’s all about value for all, value for all audiences, absolutely everyone, no matter where they are, who they are, what they’re interested in, what they need. And that in itself is a huge challenge, right? How do you deliver value to every single person in the UK? How do you justify the license fee that every household, if they have a television, needs to pay? So we have our four priorities that we focus on, and really at the heart of that is about holding onto what we’re good at. Creativity, absolutely at the core, and a focus on impartial, true, factual journalism. But with a move to much more of a commercial footing through our commercial arms, the major one of those is BBC Studios and taking our content globally, and really thinking about extracting more from online. And all of this really is to set us up for our vision for the future, so we want to be the world’s first global, digital public service media organization. It has never been done before, nobody else is doing this, and is a huge challenge but a huge opportunity with the scale, the creativity and the quality that we have in the organization. We believe we’re really well placed to do that, but we’ve got to transform to deliver it. And at the heart of that is creating a culture that has creativity and innovation absolutely at its core. So what’s the role that comms has to play? Well, currently there’s three, there’s four big focus areas for us. Celebrating the brilliant content that we deliver, really championing our creative brains and really help them to take creative risks and understand the audiences and how we meet those needs. We need to empower our leaders to really do amazing work, to take people on that journey to explain why change is necessary, why we need to innovate and why we can’t rely on, you know, being the first two channels on the remote control anymore, or the main few radio stations anymore, we’ve gotta operate in a different world. So that transformation story is really, really important and I’m not pretending that we’ve got it right, you know, change is really difficult and people have worked in the same way for a long time, for almost 100 hundred years so actually getting people, taking people on that journey is vital for us. And at the heart of that is employee first comms, and what we mean by employee first is thinking less about the corporate need and the kind of, you know, the stuff we just wanna push out and really understanding their needs, really giving them the right information at the right time, and thinking through the journeys that they need to go on and building that amazing employee experience as part of that. So we have a core channel at the BBC called Arielle. It’s an incredible channel, it started off in the 1930s, it was a weekly printed publication, a newspaper if you like, and it was available for staff but also for audiences as well, it was sent out to our pensioners, et cetera, et cetera. Then in 2011 we moved Arielle online but it was still open to both audiences and staff, and it wasn’t until 2015 that it became a colleague only channel, to and then moving through to 2022 when actually we felt we had an opportunity to really move our channel forward and deliver what you will see today powered by Firstup. Something that’s personal, social, accessible, but above all intelligent and absolutely with the audience at its heart.

– One of the things I think is really interesting about being at the BBC is there’s a lovely story to tell there, a lovely story of kind of evolution and this beautiful kind of employee voice channel. So Arielle as a newspaper, had this kind of big feature of overheard at the BBC, what’s gone on, it was a real kind of early platform for employee voice. But what you see through that and what you see through change at the BBC is often it isn’t always kind of well received, you know, a lot of people loved that newspaper, a lot of people didn’t want it going online, a lot of people didn’t want it going internal only. So as much as we were kinda developing a really strong product, we kinda knew the walls that we were kind of knocking on were not exactly gonna always kinda fall straight down. So one of the things that we did that was important for us was for our launch was rather than go big bang and take the risk on kind of a big opening moment and then kind of plateau and drop off, we wanted to go quite softly, softly. We were launching just before a summer and what was important to us was that we were kind of open about the fact that it was coming, that it was better, it was better for these reasons, but we very deliberately kinda didn’t go too hard on it. So we made sure it was super aligned with our new brand work that had come in so it felt like it was part of the BBC, not necessarily third-party, we set up a beta group so we brought people in who were kinda gonna be regular users, regular contributors of comms, you know, kick the tires on it, working with accessibility was really important. We also did some things like we pulled in some favors from our R&D team and managed to get hold of a VR headset to try and encourage people to get it, which sort of always helps, but the key there was about kinda being able to, you know, plug it into our normal channels, say it was kinda coming in new and, but really kind of retained some of the heritage for us because it was gonna be our new home for digital comms. And the other thing that was kinda really important for us as a start was that it could become a replacement for other pieces, it could be a new home for everything everywhere. So it became our new home for company comms, it became our new home for divisional comms but we also had this big push in opt-in channel, so as I imagine a lot of you have as a challenge, certainly, and I’ve had in other organizations, loads of comms, loads of people want to use comms as a solution for their business need so you can have comms channels kinda flooded with lots of comms that isn’t actually business critical. We took advantage of the fact that the platform gives you the chance to have opt-in so much more akin to kind of more contemporary social feeds, which meant that we could reduce the volume for all, increase the personalization for all. And this also gave us kind of a good bedrock for saying, “Okay, we’re kicking the tires on this product, does it work before we start to go really big bang on it?” And in terms of that kinda month one we had just under half of the organization using it, we had just under half of that group registered, and we had 95% people using desktop. This didn’t surprise us because that was what we were coming from, people were going to desktop. We had made, as you saw in the tape, a big thing about, “Look, you can use it on your mobile. Look, it’s very current.” But actually it’s a workforce communications tool and a lot of people coming to work, opening their laptop, and they’ll go into it through those means. But we were really pleased with this as a start, so especially because we hadn’t gone too hard we wanted to kind of move it in and have it replace our existing channel, but then what we also had before kind of we got into our centenary plans, which we’d always thought would be the big kickoff for it, was the death of Queen Elizabeth II. As an organization this was huge for us, not because it was so newsworthy but because the BBC has typically been kind of by appointment, the broadcaster, the producer of a lot of kind of content for the queen in the palace, so actually what we found was there was so many people across the organization who’d either had experiences of or had worked for the queen so we took this an opportunity led by Michael for kind of inviting a bit of UGC. So it was the first time it’d really kind of flicked the switch on that piece, whereas before it’d always been, “Let’s replace our broadcast channels,” we wanted to test how much we could get surface from the business. And we had a really good response, I think it was just, yeah, just over 40% of people were engaged with the content either by virtue of sharing a story, a lot of it was video content, pictures, we had some of the international guys as well who were speaking from a very different experience of it so it really kind of pulled that content in as well. But also started to see people liking and commenting on the content as well, which culturally we don’t have, culturally we, despite the fact that we are kind of a media organization, actually a lot of our comms has kinda come from a kinda broadcast first route. So one of the big things we wanted to bring Firstup in for was to have communications or much more to, and see people engaging with content rather than just consuming content. And what that meant was that kinda slightly ahead of schedule, after kinda month three, we’ve managed to get 73% of our audience using the platform, of which 42% were built-in and naturally still 95% of people were still accessing desktop, but we were kind of fine with that. This was all building us towards our centenary which we were always gonna use as our bigger moments, this ran from October last year. It was a two month campaign, ended up kinda being a three month campaign, so as well as being proof of concept for the channel it was proof of concept for the other half of my team, which is a much more kinda dedicated campaigns model. And what we were gonna do was basically put all of it behind Arielle, so if you wanted to get involved in the centenary, if you wanted to take advantage of stuff we were putting on, you kinda had to go to Arielle. And as part of that on the left hand side there you can see we have ran a lot of events, so our awards top left which if you were gonna nominate someone you had to do it through Arielle. We set up a kind of, you could contribute your request for the BBC 100 playlist, which we then played out through those giant headphones, but you did that through Arielle. We gave people the chance to be part of a Staff only question of sport episode, which the talent filmed for us, the production team, you had to apply through Arielle. We ran kind of talent Q&A sessions where we got kind of presenters from yesteryear and current in together. And guess what? If you wanted to find out about it, you had to go through Arielle. We also got birthday messages from a lot of our kind of best-known talent. If you wanted to watch ’em, guess where had to watch it?

– [Audience] Through Arielle.

– Mm-hmm.

– You go it. But we also ran a bunch of competitions quite shamelessly, ’cause we wanted to use this as a chance to build the downloads for the app and we just went full social approach for it, we said, “If you wanna win this, to be in with a chance to win it you have to download the app, you have to like the post, you have to comment on the post.” And guess what? The numbers kinda spiked. So we delivered a lot in terms of our content that we would put through Arielle, so you can see a kind of flavor in the numbers there, lots of events, lots of additional content, you know the competitions were huge for us. And this was all kind of zero budget stuff as well, right, this was us beg, borrow and steal from teams around the business. Will they stay a bit later or come in a bit earlier to film that extra episode or let you present the weather? But, you know, you can see kind of in excess of 100,000 views of our content on Arielle, you can see that the 50,000 plus views of our stay connected broadcast, which is where you saw Deb shamelessly plug in the app. But the big thing is those numbers at the bottom there, so 68% increase in app downloads in a month period, 340% increase in in the likes and 560% increase in the comments. So we used it as a way to get people using the tool more, having had the chance to build it in, kick the tires on it, know that it works, and then we kind of said, “If you want something come get it and come get it here, and then hopefully we’ll try and keep you in it.” Which kind of mirrors actually what we’ll do with our content, you know, come for the World Cup and then stay for country file. But that was the approach that we took for this and it’s that kinda seamless sense of how we’re delivering our communications in line with actually the business that we are. And in terms of kind of where that puts us today, 94% of our organization which includes a huge number of incredibly hard-to-reach people, you know, guys on production, international teams, 94% of our organization have engaged with Arielle in some way, shape or form. 60% registrations, which is huge for us because if we don’t have the registrations we can’t do a better job of curating content. We need the registrations so that we can start to deliver people content, not just the types of contents but the ways they wanna get it. You know, we’ve built, we’re a huge fan of the kind of hybrid option of kind of hitting that tick that says, “You’ll get it either by email or on the app only based on how you wanna do it.” We’ve got an international audience to say, “So the idea is saying we’re not gonna hit you in the middle of the night if it’s Australia, you’re gonna get this when it suits you.” That’s something that we think can be absolutely massive for us, but it only works if we get people in through the front door. We’ve gotta get them in, keep them in, and then we can serve them what they want. And you can see the massive 3% swing from desktop to MyBar, so don’t pop the champagne yet ’cause we’re still going. But what it’s also kind of shown us is a couple of things, which is, you know, perhaps we as an organization need to think about what is our real ceiling for that, ’cause actually is it a problem that our employees come to work, open their laptop and use their work communications tool on their work communications tool during work hours, but I think the key for us is to look at where people can only be reached through the app or only be reached through mobile, that we can get to them in a way that they can’t get things before because we don’t want them to be excluded by virtue of a brilliant job that they do for us. You know, we’ve got guys who do the core things we’re most known for, but right now we might be missing out on because we’ve not previously had a comm system that can really kinda pull them in. So that’s important for us. So in terms of what’s next, Deb’s alluded to this earlier in terms of what our strategy is. Big focus on leaders, so we’re just in the throes of completing a kind of team manager roadshow, which is the antithesis of a digital experience, we’ve got people in rooms together but we want to use something like that as a gateway to kind of build on and say, “Look, you’ve been part of something in person, come and be part of something digitally as part of a bigger audience.” So how we segment and target those groups is really important for us. Getting them in as users, creators of content, but we think we’ve done a good enough job of bringing a core audience in to kinda justify why they should use where the audience is. The embedding of the employee experience, so kind of putting more and more of our organization into Arielle, so not just kind of our content but also our people. So we’re looking at having kind of a quite big inclusion campaign running, so making sure that we’ve got this as a platform for more of our voices to be shared, both in terms of the content that create and curate but also just people have that space to talk, share, push their own pieces. But the integration bit is huge for us as well, so we’ve kind of taken baby steps already, I would say, in terms of putting Arielle into our system, but also trying to get more of our system into Arielle. So one of the things that Michael’s been working on that we think is gonna be huge for us is the integration with MS Teams, which is something that I believe we’re the first people in Europe to be doing. I think it’s worked well in North America but that could be big for us because Teams is where a lot of people do a lot of their work. So if we can find people where they’re working, that’s gonna be important for us. But we also think, you know, moving our broadcasts properly into the system so that we’re not having people use an old intranet for kind of where stuff sits and then going elsewhere for news, these are the sorts of things that’ll be really important for us. And on top of the integration automation is something that we think can be absolutely massive for us, so we’ve had a few of the guys in a few of our teams who’ve been doing a really good job already with kinda newsletters, so kind of just taking content that’s already out there and just letting it work its way through to people, especially if it’s kind of externally facing content that we think there’s a value sharing internally. But whereas when we launched we deliberately didn’t use the drip feed campaign for a lot of the reasons I kind of mentioned up top around how we thought that might be received, especially going into the summer. The idea that we’d be you this tool that says we can reduce email by sending you eight emails while on holiday to say come and join it. Felt like the irony was just too much for us to bear, but we think that it’s the type of thing that now we’ve got the system a bit more embedded, we can make mo lots more of so how can we make this work for that managed community? How can we make it work for new joiners? How can we get people who have been promoted to a manager to go through a process that says, “You don’t miss out on something just because it happened before you got promoted, you’ve got access to this, you’re part of this”? So that we think is gonna be kind of really important for us in terms of how we’re going next steps, and it’s really as well as I’ve touched on about how do we then go to that next piece with reaching those hard to reach audiences, which is so tricky and has been a problem for ages in any organization I’ve ever worked in. I’ve worked in retail type of organizations, it’s like it’s very easy to reach somebody who works in HR who sits at a desk between nine to five, you can get them with your email. Key for us is how do we get a lot of our key workforce kinda through the next steps. So the professional services are gonna be massive for us, we’ve already been working a lot with a team to develop our data, which is huge, so we can make kind of, not just kinda do the good reporting side but also have a much stronger, more intelligent led decision making around content, but also to kind of work to find the best ways to, you know, build those segmentation and build those kind of leadership communities, as well as find the guys that aren’t necessarily sat at their desk. But we did promise you that we take a look at the centenary and some of the outcomes for it, so we’ll leave you with another little tape before we take any questions.

– [Audience Member] Can I ask a quick question about the mobile adoption?

– Sure.

– ‘Cause we’re facing a similar challenge. Do you think that’s because people are being asked to, or need to install it on their personal phones? Presumably you’re not, everybody who works at the BBC gets a BBC work phone, is that an issue do you think, and/or do you think it’s about the demographics of your workforce in terms of age profile? Have you found that the people who have adopted mobile have been younger or doing certain types of jobs, what can you say on that?

– I think the honest answer is it’s a lot of different factors. So one of the things, so we have a blend of people having their own device and we have people who bring their own, sorry, their own device and a work device, we also have some people who’ve got a work device but choose to use their own device. I think the most interesting probably for us is, for a lot of people I think it’s still just a case of, “If I’m gonna access my work communications I’ll do it during work time, at which point I’ve got access to a work,” you know, a laptop. So there’s a kind of just natural habits piece. There is absolutely in some quarters an aversion to, “If I have to download extra apps kind of somewhere, then do I want to do that? Does that feel like it’s encouraging?” But I think there’s a really interesting trend for us, which is actually a lot of internal apps are otherwise going down in users, ours is actually the only one going up. So what we’re seeing is that we can potentially look to grow it. I think the key really for us is finding the people for whom using mobile is their only route in and I don’t think it’s necessarily our place to say, “We’ve got an app so we really want to push you towards mobile, because actually if you’re getting your news and the information you need, the chance to kind of contribute in a way that’s more natural for you, I don’t know that we should necessarily be trying to actively migrate them. What I think we wanna do is actively create the conditions for people to have choice, actively create the conditions for people to use mobile where it’s their only option, and actively kinda give people the space to I think probably make a natural transition that means that if they are in the office or if they’re on their commute, they can get it on the phone if that’s more convenient for them based on how their day works.

– I think we’ve just gotta be much more targeted with the way we approach it, communicate it, those hard to reach groups, You know, there’ll be people who are out on productions in a studio, not sat at a desk. We need to be much more targeted with the way we position the platform, make sure that it delivers them what they need and gives them real benefit. And, you know, I’d love to think that they’ll all be desperate to get the latest news from the BBC but the reality is, and, you know, that’s one of the reasons why we love the quick links, We can personalize those quick links to actually give them the access to those tools that they actively use, you know, to capture video, you know, loads of them use their mobiles now to capture news footage, et cetera. So that’s the sort of route we’re gonna go down, and that’s the next phase of our rollout, really.

– [Audience Member] Hi there. Ooh, sorry. Hi.

– You have the mic.

– I do. I have an unfair advantage.

– [Woman] Go ahead.

– [Dilpreet] Dilpreet Sagoo from London Stock Exchange Group. Thanks for the presentation, amazing. I just wondered, you showed a slide that had company-led communications, divisional, and then personalization. Is there a sort of defined split that you’ve sort of taken a conscious decision to sort of, you know, go down kind of get the best impact?

– 100%.

– [Audience Member] And what is it?

– Relevance, essentially, relevance in choice and an increasing shift towards personalization. So we use the company-wide messaging for kind of telling the company story, the divisional lens is the piece that is from the division for the division so it’s information that is just for that group and it’s actively tailored, and then the opt-in piece is the stuff that by and large you don’t need to know to do your job, we’ve not said that you must break your day to find this out, but you might have an interest in it. And therefore we’re saying to people, “If you’ve got an interest you can opt-in, if you’re not interested, we won’t bother your timeline with things that aren’t of interest to you.” So that’s the rationale, really, and it’s a key start for us on every increasing personalization, we need to be super respectful for our audience’s time and we find that if we’re not, and if we’re not reducing that overall volume or we’re not kind of recontracting in terms of how much we give you based on your desires, then you run the risk of you give too much and people just want nothing. So that’s, so super conscious is the rationale for it.

Collapse Transcript Expand Transcript
Audio Player